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March 31, 2004

Mental Models II

Ok, I’ll continue on the topic of mental models, which I posted on yesterday. I’d like to make another point about people whose mental maps are not being checked against reality.

You’ll notice that most of the Gore areas were small clusters with high population density. One thing psychologists have noted is that many people are willing to completely deny the observable reality presented by their senses if everyone around them disagrees with it, or sees the same event or object in a completely different way. This might be a handy genetic trait, since if you disagree with your entire group over obvious reality then the likelihood is that your genes, unfortunately, inhabit a very stupid person. It would be best for you to rely on everyone else’s brain power and just shut up.

So you have an effect of “it must be true, because everyone around me believes it, even though it conflicts with all available evidence. The evidence must therefore be somehow flawed.” To keep this denial going you need some social support, which you can get in liberal areas. Even if a person didn’t start out a liberal, if they’re the least bit unsure about reality then moving to an area and getting surrounded by them might cause a shift, using the trait of adopting the opinions of others out of a statistical probability that they all can’t be wrong.

So they can maintain a system of mutual-support for a set of beliefs that obviously is completely refuted by history, unless someone can name the “prosperous” communist country. One-hundred and seventy million dead in the 20th century from such governments, outside of war, should be a pretty good reality check. But not if almost everyone you know keeps insisting that it’s not big deal, the experiments were flawed, evil capitalists took over these governments, it’s all a CIA conspiracy, etc. Their beliefs just become the sum of every lame excuse and justification that any of their friends have resorted to.

Now to keep up with this refuge from obvious historical facts, you need a fairly regular stream of support from your friends. Otherwise your brain is going to start pointing out a few things. So it’s easiest to keep believing in the glories of socialism if you’re in a liberal college or city and hanging out in the coffee shops, bars, and other haunts. So I would predict that a high-population density of extreme liberals would be fairly self-sustaining. Nobody needs to re-examine their viewpoints, because everyone agrees on reality.

Another thing people like to do is gossip. In fact, some studies of how people actually use language show that the majority of language use is for nothing more than passing gossip. Now gossip needs a bad guy, and out-group, some “those” to always be casting aspersions on. Well, in an area with a high concentration of extreme liberals, conservatives will quite nicely fill the role of the “evil others”. Any and all evil deeds can be attributed to the outgroup, and all righteous deeds attributed to the in-group. A nice worldview that gets reinforced everytime two liberals share a coffee.

Lynching in the south? Red-neck conservatives (even though the white’s in the South were just about 100% democrats).

The Nazis? Capitalist conservative scum (even though they were socialists who wanted to bring an end to vile capitalism).

The Christians? Right-wing ideologues (even though most of the remaining democrats in the south are black Baptists).

You name it. If it’s evil it must be the fault of the conservatives. This likely comes from reinforcing a fantasy worldview with the gossip and stories passed at the same coffees where the very same fantasies are getting mutually reinforced. And thus you end up with the weird liberal density map seen in the 2000 election.

March 31, 2004 in Politics | Permalink


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George, my school and the city I live in (for now) can be quite the case study for this posting. I will be lying if I say it is not fun to observe people feeding off each other's delusions and thinking, in all sincerity, that they are the ones who know the truth. It is funny to watch them twist themselves into mental pretzels and blatantly and indignantly deny reality. If one challenges their "ideas", they react like 3-year-olds whose favorite toy was just taken away. Pathetic and hilarious, really.

Posted by: Natasha at Apr 3, 2004 12:21:17 PM